Monday, April 28, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

by Nib

Sparkle Abbey tagged me in this Writing Process Blog Tour. I was well into my second G&T and thought it would be a good idea. Often times, when I make decisions in that state of mind, it’s a disaster. But this time, it turned out to be fun. 

When I met Mary Lee and Anita we were getting our first Starbucks of the morning at the Mayhem in the Midlands conference in Omaha way back in 2010. I love their humor and friendliness and look forward to seeing them at least a couple of times a year.

Sparkle Abbey writes the hysterically funny and cleverly titled Pampered Pets mystery series. Yip/Tuck, Get Fluffy, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, and Desperate Housedogs. It is a dynamic duo of Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter. They’re friends and neighbors in Iowa and can often be found writing at Mary Lee’s dining room table or at their local Starbucks. They chose to use Sparkle Abbey as their pen name on this series because they liked the idea of combining the names of their two rescue pets—Sparkle is Mary Lee’s cat and Abbey is Anita’s dog.

Check out their answers to the Writing Process here

My answers to the Writing Process Blog Tour:

What do you write?

The Nora Abbott Mystery Series from Midnight Ink is a fast-paced mix of Hopi spirituality, environmental issues and murder. All the books are set in western landscapes: Flagstaff, AZ, Boulder, CO, and next, Moab, UT.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

These books mix hard science and environmental truths with the woo-woo of an ancient culture. Tainted Mountain (2013) deals with the real-life issue of man-made snow on a ski mountain in Arizona. The enviros hate that, the business people are gung-ho, and the tribes, including Hopi, feel it’s sacrilegious.
Broken Trust, just released, plays with energy and Tesla technology and crazy (or not so crazy) conspiracy theories about weather as a weapon of mass destruction. Believe it or not, a Hopi kachina has a thing or two to say about this.
Tattered Legacy (next year’s addition) adds another layer of Hopi culture as Nora defends one of the most iconic landscapes in the west. What do Mormons, aliens and monsoon rains have to do with murder?

How does your writing process work?

My process is not for the weak. I start with lots of excitement, thrilled with a new idea and the cool facts I learn in research. It goes from there to painful thinking and plotting on an Excel spreadsheet. Lots of cursing and lamenting about how I’m not smart enough accompany this stage. I move on to galloping though a first draft without stopping, editing, rewriting. I do this, because as I write, I realize what I’d planned isn’t logical, isn’t as good as a new idea, isn’t what the characters foist on me, or any number of reasons. I make notes about what needs to change and charge forward. I’ve learned not to go back and fix it because it might change again before I’m done.
After the first draft is finished, the real work begins. Rewriting, sweeping up, polishing, adding clarity. All that stuff takes a few drafts to get through. Then off to a free-lance editor, a couple of weeks of respite, then panic at the changes she thinks are necessary.
Now that I put this down, I’m wondering what the hell I’m thinking? This is a lot of work! I ought to quit, read more novels, and eat more chocolate.

What are you working on now?

With book three turned in and winding its way toward publication, I’ve turned my thoughts to a new series set in rural Nebraska. I’m still in the lust stage for this, so don’t want to say too much. Right now, I’m giddy with writing the first draft. Soon enough the honeymoon will end.

I’m passing this tour off to J.A. Kazimer and Donnell Bell. I picked two people because I’m an over achiever. Or, because I’m insecure and asked a couple of people, sure they’d turn me down.

Julie is one of the funniest people I know. She’s also one of the most generous, kind and snarky. (Those are not mutually exclusive.)

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, FROGGY STYLE and The Assassin’s Heart, as well as the forthcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.
Learn more at or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as@jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer
Something you may not know about Julie: One of her coworkers has eight legs and a whole lot of body hair.

Donnell Bell is perpetually cheerful. Her smiling face and easy laugh light up any room.

Donnell Ann Bell is as at home in nonfiction as she is in fiction. She has worked for a weekly business publication and a monthly parenting magazine but prefers her fictional writing compared to writing about stock portfolios or treating diaper rash. She has a background in court reporting, has worked with kids and engineers, and has volunteered for law enforcement and other organizations. Raised in New Mexico’s Land of Enchantment, Donnell has called the state of Colorado home for the past twenty-eight years.
She writes thrillers and mysteries for Bell Bridge Books. Her titles include The Betrayed, Deadly Recall, and The Past Came Hunting.
 Here’s something I just found out about Donnell from seeing her picture on her website, Donnell has a bull dog.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Writing as a Business

Thankfully, tax season is behind us, but in early April I followed an interesting exchange of opinions about how the IRS might determine whether you, as a writer, are operating as a business and could (presumably) deduct expenses.  I've seen similar lists before, attended one or two panels on the subject, heard suggestions regarding making a profit at least one year out of five, and so on.  Of course tracking royalties is the fun part of this equation!

However, more than a few of the items on the "IRS" list annoyed me.  (Surprise, surprise.)

"Do you carry on your activities in a business-like manner?  Do you maintain a system to keep track of your expenses/income? (Do you maintain a separate checking account or charge card for business purposes?"

Yes and yes!  I win!  Er, wait.  This was just the first item on the list.  And while I'm not going to go through all of them, I did think it would be fun (ahem) to rant about a few of them.

"Is the time and effort you put into writing indicative of someone attempting to sell a manuscript for profit?"

Let me say it one more time.  I'm a slow writer.  I've always met my contract deadlines, but overall, think of me as a tortoise.  I think it's because I edit so much, plus I work on multiple manuscripts at the same time, so my progress feels sluggish.  But how and why would it be appropriate to compare my time and effort with someone else?  What if my plots are more (or less) complicated; my characters less (or more) developed?  And how in the hell would the IRS be able to judge this?  Can you picture a couple of agents sitting next to you, timing your efforts, then compiling that into a database so it can be compared to the next writer's efforts?  Or filling out a survey?  "It took four days to draft that chapter.  Then I edited it 19 times over the course of three months and changed the character arc of my heroine and added several scenes and then deleted one of them as I scrolled back."  How many hours did that take?  No clue.  But I sit at my computer many hours every day.  And most of us ARE attempting to sell our manuscripts for profit.  Not all.  But most.

"Have you generated a profit from your writing in prior years, and was the profit sufficient?" 

Yes, I've generated a profit.  Was it sufficient?  Hell, no!  Not if you calculate an hourly equivalent.  Do I  care?  Of course.  But that hasn't stopped me nor will it, though it would be nice to make enough to pay the mortgage.  Every month.  (Greedy, eh?  Wanting to pay the mortgage from my royalties.  Every.  Single.  Month.)  In truth, earning that much would provide so much affirmation that I wouldn't be able to stop grinning, which would, of course, trigger unintended consequences.  Children might run away, shrieking in terror.  My dancing in the street could alarm our neighbors, not to mention the cows and horses in the field to the east.  And what about that dark scene I need to write?  I might not be in the appropriate frame of mind to throw enough rocks at my characters, which might keep that manuscript from selling, which means I wouldn't make enough to pay my mortgage, which means I'd stop smiling, which means...  Okay, going in circles now.

"Have you changed your method of operation in an attempt to be more profitable?"

I have changed my methods over the years, but not to be more profitable.  It was simple evolution.  Writing first drafts on the computer instead of long-hand, doing more up-front plotting instead of my long (and beloved) habits as a pantser.  Social networking.  While it's true that I hope networking might entice a few more people to buy my books, I wasn't really thinking about bottom line profit.  Sorry, IRS, to be absolutely honest, the answer is no.  I haven't changed my habits in order to be more profitable.  I've changed them because it makes sense, sometimes because it's fun, but also to help achieve my writing goals.  MY goals.  Not yours.

Enough of their list.  How about mine?  It would be short and sweet, starting with something along the lines of, "How often do you sit down and write?  Virtually every day?  As you also cope with a day job?  And family?  Then OF COURSE you're a writer."

Does our dear old IRS have those questions and that answer on their list?  Nope.  Just dollars and cents.  I know, I know.  My list is simply wishful thinking on my part.  But remember, I do write fiction!

~  Folio

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Don't Weaken

by Nib

Is it me, or has it been a long, cold, gray winter? I’m ashamed to say I sort of lost my grip during this last season. I’ve been fortunate that either by nurture or nature, I normally maintain a cautiously upbeat outlook on life in general. To augment that, I’m like the Thought Traffic Cop, directing them from the dangerous road of negativity to the more positive lane.

Something twisted in my head last fall, though, and my determined optimism faded. I opened my mind to a dribble of fear and soon, I was flooded with it. I turned in the last book of a three-book series and my new proposal hadn’t been accepted. I started writing in a new genre, experimenting with alternative publishing methods. I moved from my supportive writing network to the boonies. And I started to fret.
What if I was all washed up? What if my book sales tanked? What if no one ever wanted the new mystery series I wanted to write? What if these new books wouldn’t be successful?
I kept up a respectable daily word count but writing became a sentence, not fun. (Okay, let’s be truthful, writing for me in rarely fun, but I often feel satisfied.) My view of myself as a big fat loser grew to US dietary proportions. I literally saw my world in black and white. (I mean that literally, as in the movie Nebraska.)

I’m not sure what caused the turning point but one day it hit me. I had nothing to moan about. My goodness (truth is I probably didn’t say “my goodness” or "moan."), I had a three-book deal with a decent publishing house! How long had I worked toward that goal? I reminded myself that not long ago I’d said, “If I could have three books published, I might give up writing and become a full-time reader.” Somewhere along the line, though, I’d raised the bar on myself. Suddenly three books weren’t enough. And I wallowed in self-pity that my sales didn’t rival more successful writers.
The truth is, I may never get another publishing contract. This is what I’ve got right now: two books released, one due out next year. I had darned-well better enjoy this ride. If it’s the last time I go round, I’ll kick myself if I spend the whole time worrying about what’s next.
I also decided to stop writing the books that weren’t feeding me and start to have fun (again, a relative term). Just like the pall of winter lifting for spring, my gloom lightened. Negative self-talk that had become habit required conscious thought to change. But it’s so worth the effort.
Instead of thinking, “oh no, how will lightening ever strike me twice?” I’m feeling gratitude for the shock of the first time. I’m infused with new energy and determination to get going. No one may want to publish this next series but it’s the book I want to write. Thinking of it makes me happy. So that’s what I’m going to work on.
Maybe my new-found optimism is more a product of the coming spring than it is my ability to direct my own thinking. But it snowed yesterday and there’s a definite dreariness in the sky today. And yet, I threw myself into my new project with enthusiasm.

As my dear father-in-law used to say: It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Things to Look For in a Contract

A few months ago a publishing contract for a nonfiction book came rolling out of my printer.  I held a 9-page affirmation of my project’s worth.  But I knew I had to seriously consider the terms before signing. 

  Studying the publisher’s boilerplate contract, my agent first negotiated down the number of required pages and allowed for more free copies for me, her, and my photographer.  She limited the type of book we’d need to bring to the publisher as first option and shortened the number of days they'd have to make their decision.  She changed the royalties from 10% of net receipts to 10% up to 5,000 copies and 12 1/2 % up to 10,000 and 15% after 10,000 copies sold.  She bought me two extra months to finish and turn in the book as well as a couple of extra days to correct the galley proofs.  She doubled the amount I’d be paid to revise or update the book.  She asked that I have cover and design input, and she reserved the film, dramatization, and TV rights for the agency.

Then I had a go at it.  I don’t speak legalese; but there were quite a few items in the contract that concerned me.  The index was to be compiled or paid for by me; I’m far from skilled in that area.  We had them nix that clause so they could do that at their expense.  I bargained them down further on the word and photo requirements.  I took back the rights to create (and benefit from) apps or enhanced eBooks and to blog about the topic.   I raised the percentage on eBook sales from 5% to 20% on the first 500 sold and 25% thereafter.  Instead of the photo allowance being paid only after all the work was turned in, I asked for ½ of it to be dispersed on signing.  My acquiring editor didn’t put a fight up on any of these changes. 

But there was more back and forth about this problematic (and frankly unfair) clause: “Sales of prior editions shall not be cumulative with sales of any revised edition for purposes of calculating royalties.” Given the fact that my percentages were to increase depending on how many copies sold, starting the count over with revised editions would put me back in earnings per book despite it selling well enough to go into those new editions. 

I still felt uncertain about verbiage I didn’t understand under Warranties and Indemnity, Accounting, and Reversion of Rights.  By this time my agent seemed tired of the back and forth demands she was placing on this editor whom she worked with on other projects and, no doubt, didn’t want to alienate.  So I took it to transaction attorney extraordinaire, Susan Spann.  For a nominal fee, she took a look at the contract. 

Despite all my efforts to catch items disadvantageous to me, she found even more troublesome clauses, some of them ones she felt were onerous enough to be deal breakers.  I wasn’t sure whether to be angry at the editor, my agent for missing them, or myself for being so na├»ve not to have noticed them.  

Susan didn’t think it was a good thing that the publisher could put ads inside the book without my consent, that they could withhold royalties due on my book for amounts owed on any other works I had with them, that “out-of-print” was tied to sales instead of the more vague “out of print” status, that the publisher could at any time sign its rights and obligations to another entity, that the publisher would have the right to use excerpts, up to 15, pages, from my book in others in their inventory, paying me only $100. 

What turned out to be the most important change Susan suggested was that the publisher NOT be allowed to finish the manuscript at my cost if content wasn’t acceptable.  That they would only have the right to cancel the contract.

It was never said formally, but I suspect that change might have been key to my being able to cancel the contract when my photographer backed out after I had already signed.  I canceled without an obligation to pay their costs to move forward with the project.

The lesson?  Have a capable attorney familiar with publishing contracts take a look before you sign.  Thanks Susan Spann!  --- Inkpot